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This Orkney & Shetland tour has been carefully-designed to cover the highlights while also surprising with hidden gems and local knowledge.
Day one – Arrival in Edinburgh
Meet your fellow travellers and guide this evening for welcome drinks and dinner. Maybe arrive a day or two early and spend time exploring Scotland’s exciting capital – it is especially busy in August with all the buzz of the world-famous festival, so we strongly recommend making any such arrangements well in advance. Glorious visitor attractions are dotted throughout – from the dominant castle to the splendid and much more tranquil Royal Botanic Gardens.
Your accommodation in Edinburgh
Enjoy four-star country-house-style hotel accommodation on the western outskirts of the city, especially convenient for the airport. With the central mansion house dating back to 1840, this is a tranquil and relaxing spot, boasting acres of grounds for an afternoon stroll plus indoor swimming pool and spa if you prefer more luxurious pleasures. Rooms are smartly furnished in a sleek and modern style, while staff are both friendly and highly attentive. The restaurant serves seasonal Scottish fare with a contemporary twist; breakfasts include a full buffet and choice of hot dishes.
Day two – Fly North to Prehistoric Scotland
This morning the group will be leaving Edinburgh and flying north to Orkney. With a bit of luck you’ll see the Lowlands of Scotland rise into the craggy Highland mountains beneath you – huge lochs and rivers that span coast to coast look no more than potholes and puddles. The landscape grows wilder the further North you go until the hills submerge into the sea below. Within moments of the Scottish mainland disappearing, the grass and heather covered islands of Orkney come into view.
Touch down in Kirkwall and head out on a mini-coach trip to South Ronaldsay. Pass over the Churchill Barriers built by Italian POWs and see the scuttled carcasses of old ships lying in the water. Golden beaches and sand dunes have built up against these man-made intrusions, changing the landscape of this unique setting. Your guide will be on hand to give context to these extraordinary scenes and discuss the tragedies and victories of Orkney’s war effort.
Head to the Tomb of the Otters for lunch at leisure – perhaps sampling delicious fresh seafood. Experience a first glimpse of the archipelago’s astonishing Neolithic history. Hear the story of this strange tomb’s discovery – possibly from the man who unearthed it – and brave the cold stillness of it from the inside.
En route back towards Orkney’s Mainland, stop at the Italian Chapel. From the outside just a Nissen hut with a small bell tower, but inside a poignant reminder of the power of human endeavour. The spiritual stillness and delicate fresco that adorns the walls are timeless counterpoints to the horrors of war.
From here it’s just a short transfer to your accommodation for the next three nights.
Your accommodation in Kirkwall
Positioned just a short walk away from Kirkwall’s main bars, restaurants and sites, this small harbour-side hotel is well positioned to make the most of your time here. The hotel’s restaurant is a favourite in Kirkwall, with locally sourced produce and fresh seafood taking pride of place on the menu. Welcoming staff will make your stay here a special experience, the wholesome breakfast setting you up for the day ahead.
Day three – The Atlantic’s Last Stop
Begin the day with a tour of Stromness – a small town with one of the richest histories of adventure in Scotland. Known by mariners the world over as the last stop in the Atlantic to find a crew, countless heroes and pirates have landed here to replenish water and provisions. You will undertake a walking tour through the coiled streets and alleys of this beautiful place, unusual buildings and sea views punctuating each twist and turn. Hear stories of doomed expeditions sailed into obscurity, and the local doctor who pieced together their final hours. Visit the Stromness museum and browse the bizarre collection of maritime artefacts traded by desperate sailors.
Next visit the Piers Arts Centre and experience the architectural beauty of this converted Hudson Bay office. A gorgeous complex of rooms stretches into the sea. Worth a visit for the framed views alone, the impressive art collection is exceptionally well presented.
Your private mini-coach will then whisk you back towards Kirkwall, stopping on the way at an intriguing secret spot hidden among the hills and heather.
Arrive in Kirkwall with the afternoon free to explore. Maybe visit one of the distilleries, acquaint yourself with St Magnus Cathedral or spend the time following the medieval streets and closes that make this seaside town so special – your guide will be on hand with plenty of recommendations.
Day four – Neolithic Mysteries
Head out this morning in the company of a local guide and dive deeper into Orkney’s unique culture and history. From the poignant unknowns of Neolithic monument-builders through to tales of mischievous Vikings, learn of animal gods and modern day ceremonies that bring the archipelago together.
A visit to Maeshowe – the chambered cairn built with six-tonne rock slabs a thousand years before the first pyramids – is sure to be a highlight of the trip. Not much more than a mound of earth from the outside, on entering one can experience a profound feeling of wonder at our ancient ancestor’s ingenuity and endeavour. This and several more stops, including the Ring of Brodgar and the Skara Brae settlement, will give you an unparalleled understanding of why this special place was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
The context given by a local guide and on-site experts is inimitable in understanding this area’s significance to human history. Hear of the fascinating discoveries that have shed a thin light on the mystery of Orkney – of how the islands may have been abandoned in a ceremony of sacrifice, of the bewildering ancient practices uncovered with each layer of earth peeled back. Come to your own conclusions as to what happened, what it meant, and more importantly what it means to be human.
Day five – The Northern Edge of Scotland
This morning say farewell to Orkney and catch a short flight to Sumburgh. The flat green pastures of one archipelago disappear; the darkening blue of Atlantic and North Sea collide beneath as Shetland comes into view. The black and greys of craggy rock and cliff face rise from the sea, foaming waves below roll into the bizarre landmass.
The contrast between Orkney and Shetland is staggering, from the lush comfort of one to the violent beauty of the other. The Ness of Burgi stretches its blackened claws of rock into the sea to the west – salt water reaches into the Central Mainland, grasping up rivers and valleys, the tangy smell of brine all-pervading.
From the airport you will be picked up for a private mini-coach tour of the South. First it’s on to St Ninian’s Isle, a beautiful tombolo beach on the west coast. Turquoise waters crawl up both sides of the golden sands that link St Ninian’s to the Central Mainland – hear tales of treasure discovered in the sand and the Apostle to the Southern Picts. The experience of space and tranquillity is soothing. The wonder and strangeness of Shetland is revealed with each twist of country road and coil of coastline.
Next travel east to Lerwick and spend the afternoon wandering through the Shetland Museum & Archives. This modern building set amongst the ancient harbour is a brilliant stop to learn the story of Shetland. The well curated collection of artefacts reflect the archipelago through the ages and up to the present day – a great way to set the tone for the rest of your stay. From here it’s a short transfer to your accommodation for the next two days.
Your accommodation in Shetland
This sixteenth century hotel is a brilliant mixture of austere and quirky Shetland architecture with a warm and welcoming country-house interior. The staff are exceptionally friendly and happy to make your stay as comfortable as possible in this remote location – enjoy the garden and look out over the wind-shaped trees to the distant sea and hills of this surprising place.
Dinner is included on both nights here, with local Shetland produce such as scallops and fish prominently featured on the menu.
Day six – Adventure through the Heart of Shetland
Today you head out in the company of a local guide. The insights and stories shared will take you on a journey through the extraordinary history of Shetland – from its far-flung location and singular creation, cooling lava through to hunter gatherer colonisation and the curious Vikings who reverberate in the present-day culture.
Passing through valleys torn open by glaciers and rivers flooded by the sinking of the land, learn the story of Mavis Grind’s geology and see it clearly illustrated in the many coloured rocks that make up the hills and cliffs. Visit Eshaness and gaze over one of Scotland’s finest views, the drama of the cliffs and sea difficult to comprehend.
Reaching deeper into Northmavine, visit the site of an unusual discovery in a roadside bog, and hear of the many explanations it inspired. Crossing from west to east, experience the astounding scenery of Lunna and discover the death-defying feats undertaken by fishermen during WW2 and of the Norwegian refugees saved by exceptional bravery.
The day will be full of interesting and arresting stops, some stories known, some surprising, all part of the history of Scotland’s separate world. A huge offering of vistas and interest abound on Shetland – a visit to this thrilling archipelago of individualistic islands, set in the centre of the ocean, will stay with you forever: part of Scotland and yet separate.
Day seven – Return to the Scottish Mainland
After a relaxed breakfast, there’s still enough time for one last key stop. Visit Jarlshof, a fascinating site on the lands edge. This ancient settlement on the coast has buildings dating from 2,500BC through to the 17th century. See a little more of the south of the archipelago, such as the extremity of Sumburgh Head, then hop aboard the flight from Sumburgh to Glasgow, landing in the early afternoon. Say fond farewells to the rest of the group before continuing on with your travel plans. A transfer back to Edinburgh is included if required, arriving mid to late afternoon, or choose to stay on in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city of many and varied attractions.
This will have been a special week of adventure and discovery – if you would like to link it with a visit to any other Scottish islands or a tour of the Highlands, we’d be more than happy to help with the planning.
Fly from Edinburgh to Orkney then on to Shetland. Return flight to Glasgow, with transfer to Edinburgh included if required.
The price of £1,895 per person sharing a twin or double room or £2,335 single occupancy includes:
Please note the baggage allowance for the flights in this tour:
Any bags exceeding 20kg or any additional bags that have not been prepaid, will be charged at the airport.
All accommodation is carefully-selected and researched by us, predominantly featuring small, family-owned hotels – contact us for more detailed information. We will do our best to accommodate room preferences subject to availability at individual properties.
This tour will operate with a minimum of four and maximum of 15 passengers on each departure date.
Simply complete the form below to reserve your place(s). We will hold your place(s) for 48 hours to provide time for you to pay the deposit of 25% per person.
All our holiday prices include a service charge of £9 per person per night towards the costs we incur in researching, planning and designing your holiday.
We guarantee to refund this service charge if you believe that arranging your holiday through McKinlay Kidd has not met your expectations for value. All we ask is that you write to us within 7 days of your return and explain your reason for claiming the refund. This will ensure that we can improve the experience for all our future guests.
|Departure Date||Starts From||Nights||£ per person (2 sharing)||£ per person (single)|
|Sunday 23 Aug 2020||Edinburgh||6||£ 1895 - Limited places available||£ 2335 - Fully booked|
|Sunday 27 Jun 2021||Edinburgh||6||£ 1895||£ 2335|
|Sunday 12 Sep 2021||Edinburgh||6||£ 1895||£ 2335|
To reserve your place(s) on this tour, please call us or complete the form below, making sure to select your departure date from the dropdown menu and advise of any special requirements. We will hold your place(s) for 48 hours and contact you with details of how to confirm your booking by payment of the per person deposit.
Please note: All form fields are required unless otherwise stated optional.